Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fauna and Flora: Bear root

Bear root is a plant that has long, slender leaves that are smooth edged in the young plant and jagged edged in the mature. The leaves on an immature plant are approximately one meter in length and on a mature plant three meters in length. It grows in marshy places and puts up a stalk of tiny flowers in the heat of summer. The flowers smell musky. When dried, the musk scent is more potent and it is used in poor man's incense. The stem of the stalk is hollow and is harvested in autumn after the plant has died back following the first hard frost to use for similar purposes as reeds.

The root of the plant is shaped roughly like a bear paw print. The plant propagates by way of seeds and root systems. The 'claw' of the bear paw is where the runner of the roots come from. In early autumn, the seeds are dispersed on the wind. They are very small and light with a tuft of fuzz that catches the breeze like cattail seeds. Mature bear root is approximately 22 cm wide at its widest point.

The root is covered in a brown colored skin with rootlets giving the appearance of fur. The flesh of the root is white when uncooked. Cooking the root, it turns a pale tan color. The skin of the plant is generally inedible to humans, but it and the upper portions of the plant are edible to livestock and wild animals. Songbirds greatly favor the seeds. Beavers are known to be especially fond of the roots and young stems.

The edible parts of the bear root plant are the root and the pollen. The root can be treated like a thick skinned potato. While it is possible to eat bear root raw, it is generally unliked because the taste is very starchy. Bear root pollen is a pale yellow in color and used like flour. It has a taste similar to cornmeal. It is very high in fiber content and while it can be baked like flour it is used in cooked dishes where flour would have been used (puddings, dumplings, steamed biscuits, etc.) because the interaction between the pollen and heated liquid makes the pollen easier to digest.

The leaves of bear root plant are sometimes stripped for the center vein which is used in cord making. The leaves are also sometimes woven as used as a component in building. They are also turned into pulp to make paper in some regions of Evandar (namely in Moesia). Bear root will overtake a place of still water if the local fauna does not control it.